South Africa v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Durban, 3rd day December 28, 2011

Chance for South Africa to do something special - Kirsten


South Africa will enter the last two days of the Boxing Day Test needing to achieve the highest successful fourth-innings chase to beat Sri Lanka in Durban, break a so-called jinx, and close out the series against Sri Lanka. It's a tall order for a line-up that was shot out for 168 in their first innings, against an attack that many rated as incapable of 20 wickets in a Test match.

With a task of this magnitude, South Africa can afford to be philosophical about what lies ahead. Gary Kirsten, the head coach, said one of the key things for them is simply to believe. "The one thing we do know is that it's an opportunity for someone to do something special and be a hero for their country," said Kirsten. "At the end of the day, we've got to dig ourselves out of this hole."

The hole was created by a poor first-innings effort with the bat, which showed a distinct lack of application by some of the side's most senior players, such as AB de Villiers and Ashwell Prince. It was deepened by a lacklustre showing with the ball, in which the bowlers leaked 249 runs in the day, of which more than half came in the second session.

Sri Lanka scored 142 runs between lunch and tea and lost just two wickets. It was in that passage of play that Kumar Sangakkara came into his own and marched to his first century in the country as though he owned the place. Kirsten admitted the bowlers lost their way.

"We probably had a poor second session where we didn't really stick to our plans," he said. "We got a bit both sides of the wicket and we didn't do a good holding job. You'd like one of your seamers to be able to bowl one side of the wicket. They are all talented and skilled enough to do that."

"All these guys are capable of getting big scores. It's still a fairly good batting wicket. The pitch played pretty well today, which is a good sign."
Gary Kirsten

South Africa's lack of a containing bowler has been lurking as a problem since they dropped Paul Harris for Pakistan-born legspinner Imran Tahir. It did not stand up as a real concern when they were shooting sides out, like Australia for 47 in November and Sri Lanka for 180 and 150 in the last Test. In those instances, the attack was under no real pressure to stop the run flow, as they were today in Durban. When they were, Vernon Philander, who brought what Graeme Smith has called a "degree of control", had stepped in.

With the prolific wicket-taker, Philander, out of the side because of a knee injury, South Africa have no-one to stem the tide. Jacques Kallis was unable to, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Tahir were too focused on taking wickets, and Marchant de Lange was trying to repeat his heroics of the first innings while finding his feet. Too many short balls were wasted, too many boundaries were allowed to be scored and Sri Lanka were given enough rope to run away.

The lack of consistency in South Africa's performances is now glaring and Kirsten said they are trying to find a way to string together more than one strong showing. "What we've been trying to focus on is how we stack up the days and how we play the sessions," he said. "What is concerning for us all is that we can have two really good sessions and then have a blow out session. We need to focus on ways and means of stopping the bleeding."

There is little they can do to close the wound with the ball, so it will fall to the batsmen to do the repair job, something which seems fair, considering they are the chief cause of South Africa's current position. "You are always chasing the game when you get bowled out for a score like that," said Kirsten, adding a clean slate will be needed in the second knock. "We've got to look at it like a first innings, like you are setting up a total. All these guys are capable of getting big scores. It's still a fairly good batting wicket. The pitch played pretty well today, which is a good sign for the rest of the Test match."

Although deterioration of the surface is expected, Kirsten has to think positively because South Africa have to find some inspiration and he may be the man to provide it. Twelve years ago, he did something special at this ground. Kirsten made a then-South African record score of 275 to save the third Test against England. The Proteas need an effort which mirrors that one to win this match. "It's a great opportunity for someone to be a hero. These are the reasons why we play the game," he said. "I am still quite excited by what can come out of this Test match."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • stuart on December 29, 2011, 11:26 GMT

    looks like the Saffers are doing a good job of blowing this test again. Makes you wonder why England like Saffer players so much> maybe they don't get the chokers?

  • Dummy4 on December 29, 2011, 11:07 GMT

    well kirsten has been able to do nothing special since joining SA

  • Dummy4 on December 29, 2011, 9:59 GMT

    @ Kreacher_Rocks: just on a point of order, if SA do lose this test (and chasing a world record 4th innings total of 450, you would expect them to) it won't necessarily mean the test series is tied, as we have a third test against Sri Lanka in Cape Town and could easily win (or lose) the series 2-1.

  • Daniel on December 29, 2011, 9:39 GMT

    This is especially problematic when the plan is flawed. Watching smith and kirsten handle Tahir has been painful. Legspinners very rarely become containing bowlers, because the action means consistency is extremely hard to achieve. This means that if you play a leggie you have to back them. And you do that by attacking ie by setting a field that complements the aggressive bowling type. Smith though is putting a man on the fence immediately, and never having more than 2 catchers, even when we have a new batsman at the wicket. His field doesnt complement Tahirs aggression, and so relieves the pressure; there is always a run for the batsman, and no close fielder to take advantage of false shots. What may be most worrying though is some bowlers (read morkel mainly, but also steyn alot in the first innings) inability to put the game plan into effect;Morkels lack of consistency is down to 1 of 3 things; either his technique is flawed, he is not being coached correctly, or he is mentally weak

  • Daniel on December 29, 2011, 9:38 GMT

    With all due respect, SA's problem is not that they dont have a containing bowler. The best test teams in history did not have containing bowlers; they selected the 4 guy most likely to get them 20 wickets. The great west indies sides, the aussie side that dominated for 15 years did it through batsmen who dominated the opposition bowling attack, and bowlers who dominated the opposition batting. Even mcgrath, the so called 'containing' bowler took 563 wickets@21;Harris will NEVER give you that. The problem is not the aggression our bowling attack has.The problem (the main one) is the playing to a plan no matter what, instead of instilling good cricketing instincts and so playing to the current circumstances of the match. Our bowlers think 'the plan' is the be all and end all, and when it doesnt work instead of reverting to line and length, they try more and more different things, giving away runs and relieving pressure. to be continued...

  • Dummy4 on December 29, 2011, 8:28 GMT

    @hhillbumper - I'm rather glad you made this comment as it shows the totally stupidity of this entire choking discussion:

    "I feel a monumental choke coming on.The question is though which team will it be.Can Sri Lanka bowl well enough to get the Saffers out or will they do it by themselves?"

    Now how can it be possible for whomever loses to have choked?! By definition choking is meant to be losing from a position where 9 out of 10 you'd be expected to win.

    The same applies to all those who have made comments about SA choking. You may need to review your definition of what choking means. SA are expected to lose from here. It cannot possibly be called a choke if they do.

  • Dummy4 on December 29, 2011, 8:24 GMT


    Before you repeat the same thing on various threads you should check the facts. This is a three match series, there is still another on in CT. Of course, that could well end in a draw but you are jumping the gun a little by concluding that they would have drawn their last four home series.


    Why is a dasher needed? There are plenty overs left and by my estimation they only need to score these runs at under 3 an over. Under the match average so far.


    Um, by all accounts this is a flat pitch so not sure you are really proving any point. Not sure how you conclude that overcast conditions make the pitch any different. Yes, the ball may do more through the air but it does not change a flat pitch!

  • Dummy4 on December 29, 2011, 7:37 GMT

    Gary Kirsten is a joker, you need to respect your opposition side.. Well said Sampath Chandrarathna... Now he must be wondering about SA A side to replace the current team.. !!!

  • rahul on December 29, 2011, 7:20 GMT

    if i not wrong then the prevoius highest chase of 418 was made by west indies which batting contains name like gordon greenidge . desmond haynes , viv richards , clive lyod , kalicharan . i don't think sa had anybosy like those legends .

  • Dru on December 29, 2011, 6:50 GMT

    Firstly I dont beleive the chocker tag has any relevance here - the series is not lost! Next 400+ on this wicket against this SL attack is not beyond reach. Lets face it the SL's made 250 against the best bowling attack on this wicket yesterady so one would imagine SA would still back themselves. Its a mental thing from here- can SA be mentally strong against an attack that was dismiised (rightly so) before and after the last test. We will know how confident SL are this morning with the decleration decision.

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